Did North Korea Really Test an H-Bomb? (NRO, 1/6/16)

NATIONAL REVIEW

By Fred Fleitz

There’s more to this test than North Korean bravado.

After reports of a small, magnitude 5.1 seismic event in the vicinity of North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site on Tuesday, the state-controlled North Korean news service announced a successful test of a miniaturized hydrogen bomb — which it called a “hydrogen bomb for justice.” A North Korean television anchor said the test elevated North Korea’s “nuclear might to the next level.”

It is very unlikely that this was a test of a true H-bomb, a thermonuclear device in which a primary fission reaction ignites a much larger secondary fusion/fission reaction. The technical challenges of constructing a true H-bomb, which could be over 1000 times more powerful than North Korea’s previous three nuclear tests, are far beyond North Korean capabilities. The real meaning of this nuclear test, regardless of its type, may be an attempt by North Korea to get a nuclear deal similar to Iran’s before President Obama leaves office.

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